Caceres itself is a charming place, full of history and interesting, medieval, Renaissance buildings to see. The landscape is beautiful, as it's surrounded by greenery and land. And the people that I encountered while I was there were lovely too. It worked out nicely that I took a bus to Caceres on Saturday morning and was able to explore the town and walk around a bit before the festival activities commenced later that afternoon.
I saw many of the things that one might see when they go to Caceres as a tourist, but probably the highlight for me was seeing the Plaza Mayor during the day, and then seeing it again during the festival that night.
It's a massive plaza, and when I saw it during the day, it was very much alive. People were eating at the restaurants that surround its edges, drinking on the well-known massive stairway that leads down into it, and enjoying the sun and life itself. I thought, "Oh, what a perfect place to have a festival. It's so big, there's plenty of space for all the people, and this will just be great, so much room to dance!" So having stuck this thought in my mind, I was in total shock when we arrived to the festival that night and could barely walk through it!
The festival was crawling with people, so many people, I couldn't believe I was in the same place. The plaza suddenly seemed too small, and I was wondering where all that room I'd seen earlier might have gone. It was quite a sight! WOMAD, which stands for the World of Music, Arts, and Dance, has been taking place in Caceres for the last 22 years, and has developed a reputation for being an awesome, international, free festival. Started by Peter Gabriel (of Genesis), Thomas Brooman, and Bob Hooton, WOMAD has become synonymous for good music in a great setting. They bring a deeply international lineup, and keep the workshops and sounds pumping for many hours.
The festival had two stages that alternated having people perform each hour or so. The main stage was in the Plaza Mayor, and the smaller stage was in another plaza near the Plaza Mayor, Plaza San Jorge. My roommates had been the night before, so they weren't too keen on spending much time at the Plaza Mayor, and we spent our time bouncing around from the area that you pass through from one stage to the next, and the smaller stage.
This stage was set with a nice-sized church at the back of it, which provided a perfect space for more people to fill, and man, was the area full! The festival was great, but I do think that it's size has outgrown the space they have for it. It would be better suited if it was held in a larger area, so people can access it and move around more. We got to a "there's no turning back" point, and once we were planted and in the stage area, we weren't going to move, or leave. I got a bit claustrophobic at times, and had to return my attention to the splendor of musical performance before me in order to not be bothered by the walkway my body had become (but hey, this is expected at festivals now-a-days anyways). We only actually saw two performances while we were there, but they were so memorable that I've been passing out the artists' names to everyone I can since we got back.
The church at the back-end of the stage in Plaza San Jorge.
Before going, I did a bit of reading and research on WOMAD, and one of the things I read was that the plazas would be so full, people would be climbing up on windows in order to see the stages. Even knowing this ahead of time, I was still surprised to see people climbing the heights and sitting on the iron works of the windows. Although, if I wasn't such a whimp with heights, I would have done the same, as it provided the best seat in the house!
The first artist we saw was Julian Maeso of Spain. His musical style hits on many levels, and if you're at all interested in blues, rock, folk, country, soul, and Bob Dylan, you'll be sure to enjoy Julian Maeso. His sounds are quite unique coming from a Spanish recording artist, but they sure are lovely. I kept finding myself with my eyes closed, swaying back-and-forth, with only the most beautiful kinds of thoughts filling my head. He and his band put on an amazing show, and were sure to keep the energy up. There were slamming guitar and drum solos, as well as those moments that make you drift off to a land full of puffy clouds and rainbows. Julian himself is quite impressive, as he can play a variety of instruments, and all of them well.
The next group that we saw hail from Australia and go by the name the Barons of Tang. This group is the product of the squatter scene in Melbourne, and it only took a moment for me to become entranced by their sound. It is a gnarly combination of rockabilly, gypsy, metal, tango, and instrumental goodness, and will leave you feeling exhausted, but oh so happy. I couldn't believe the energy level, random shouts, screams, barks, howls, and/or chants that were blasting at me from the stage when they were on, let alone the rapid shifts and switches from a more mellow, soft sound, to BAM, we have hit punk station and we're going hard! I can still feel my jaw drop to the ground when I think about how the drummer was just smashing it out the entire time, or the surprise I felt when she then stepped up to the mic and let out a beautiful voice. I kept waiting for them to slow down, tire out, and let up, but it did not the whole time they played. They were really something else. No matter your music taste, you've gotta respect their skills and what they're doing!
Overall, WOMAD was a great experience, and one I intend to have again next year. The overcrowded-ness of it cannot keep me away, which makes it easy to understand why so many people go, in spite of this less-than-enjoyable fact. The city was quite alive that weekend, with workshops, markets, drum circles, and performances, and that kind of aliveness is something I think we all seek in life.
If you're ever in Andalucia in May, be sure to check out Caceres (if you're ever in Andalucia in general, I recommend taking the trip out for a day/night) for WOMAD Festival!